Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel

Allison Bechdel, Dykes to Watch Out For “Boy Trouble” top half, March 4, 1999

Alison Bechdel (born 1960) began drawing single panel cartoons mostly for her own amusement, but was encouraged by a friend to submit them to Womannews, a feminist newspaper. This was the origin of her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For in 1983--first as single panel cartoons, then as free-standing  strips, and finally as serialized continuity strips with a regular cast of characters. The characters are a group of young lesbian friends who initially live together in a shared house and congregate at a feminist bookstore Madwimmin books. The weekly strip ran until 2008, when she shut it down to concentrate on her graphic memoirs, Fun Home (2006) and Are You My Mother? (2012).

Because the strips were published in a full-page format, Bechdel usually was able to have at least two settings in each strip (as in the example in this exhibit). One of her skills as a storyteller was that each of the two parts would progress the narrative of the characters involved while also equally commenting on some issue of the day (Dykes to Watch Out For was, at heart, a topical comic strip).

Her memoirs, Fun Home about growing up with her closeted father, and Are You My Mother? about her relationship with her mother, brought her artistry to a new audience. Her storytelling in these two expansive volumes is quite sophisticated and subtle, and she is penetrating and self-analytical in ways that even the most revelatory autobiographical cartoonists rarely are. But close readers of Dykes to Watch Out For could see these virtues in the strip, unfolding week by week. It didn't have as big an impact on the alternative comics world as it should have, probably because of its publication primarily in lesbian and feminist newspapers and magazines. Fortunately this situation has been rectified and Bechdel is recognized as one of the most important cartoonists of her generation.

Alison Bechdel, Dykes to Watch Out For “Boy Trouble” bottom half, March 4, 1999